Ketotifen alone or as additional medication for long-term control of asthma and wheeze in children

Children with asthma can find using inhaled treatments medication difficult and so oral medication such as ketotifen, which is an antihistamine, can be used to help control symptoms. The review found that mild asthma symptoms were well-controlled in the studies of 4 to 32 week duration with reduction in use of rescue bronchodilator, rescue oral steroids and in exacerbations as well as clear perception of effectiveness from physicians, parents and children.

Authors' conclusions: 

Evidence from randomised controlled trials indicates that ketotifen alone or in combination with other co-interventions improves control of asthma and wheezing in children with mild and moderate asthma. However due to the high proportion of children with atopy in some trials the results cannot necessarily be generalised to all asthmatic children. The benefit is obtained at the cost of minor side effects, namely sedation and weight gain. The validity of this conclusion is limited by the low reported, methodological quality of included trials.

Read the full abstract...

Ketotifen is an antihistamine which may be used to treat asthma. Since administering inhaled therapy to younger children can be difficult, an oral agent such as ketotifen offers potential advantages.


The objective of this review is to determine, whether ketotifen alone or in combination with other co-interventions results in better control of asthma in children with asthma and/or wheezing and examine its safety profile.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register of trials, CENTRAL and reference lists of articles. The latest search was carried out in May 2010.

Selection criteria: 

Clinical studies had to be randomised-controlled and double-blinded, comparing oral ketotifen with placebo in children with asthma and/or wheeze for at least eight weeks at a dose not less than one mg daily.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently performed selection of trials, quality assessment and data extraction; a third reviewer was included in the consensus process if necessary.

Main results: 

A total of 26 relevant studies involving 1826 participants were included in this review. Children's age ranged from 4 months to 18 years and ketotifen was given between 10 and 32 weeks. The proportion of children able to reduce or stop their bronchodilator use within 12 to 16 weeks of treatment was significantly higher in the ketotifen group (relative risk 2.39, 95% CI 1.64 to 3.48) based on four trials; this result was statistically significant in a subgroup of two trials with well described and adequate method of blinding. Statistically significant beneficial effects of ketotifen were also observed in the following secondary outcomes: efficacy evaluated by physician (10 trials) and parents/patients (7 trials), asthma symptom score (4 trials), asthma exacerbations (2 trials), and reduction in use of oral steroids (4 trials). However, sub-group analyses of trials with well described and adequate method of blinding was only significant for the outcome asthma symptom score and non-significant for the remaining secondary outcomes. Reported side effects were more frequent in the ketotifen group (sedation: 21%, weight gain: 27%) than in the placebo group (sedation: 12%, weight gain: 17%).